Monday, August 29, 2011

Nanta tickets.

I use the Nanta tickets as place-markers and finally decided to retire them to a photo album in order to organize and save space. Notice I saw the show almost exactly a year apart.  

Korean souvenir gift boxes

 I found a few of my boxes and decided to have a little fun with them. You can buy Korean gifts in most markets such as Dongdaemun or Insadong as well as many other stores and souvenir shops. Oftentimes hand mirrors, fans, and other items all come in cute little boxes.  The boxes featured below are my favorite style. They are carefully designed with Hangeul writing and and other Korean characters.  Take a look at these boxes and consider buying some souvenirs for your friends to enjoy them, as well. These were some gifts from a few of my friends. 

What's inside?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bittersweet happiness!

I woke up this morning with a smile on my face. I dreamed I was in Korea with old friends during a teacher training workshop session.  We were laughing with [no, not at] our leaders and teachers and then we frolicked through a maze-like field of tall grasses and beautiful flowers. I have no recollection of our exact location. In fact, it could have been in the middle of nowhere or a place that I created in my imagination. All I know, it created within me a nostalgic and happy bittersweet feeling.  As far as I know now, I will not be returning to the motherland for at least one more year if not many more!  There is peace knowing that I have the most wonderful opportunity to move forward with my goals and plans for the future  as well as time to invest in amazing new friendships here in America.  This year has been a growth-filled year watching friends get married, meeting new people, and re evaluating where I plan to go next.  I will try my best to think about Korea and write about Korea related things near my "community" at least until I promised-the end of the year.  Don't forget the state I live in equals 3 South Koreas in one and I live about one South Korea away from Korea town in LA! Not particularly small, now is it?

Speaking of nostalgia, I also opened up an old blog post from another mostly non-Korea related blog I attempted to keep earlier in the year and saw this pic:

Korea, you're in my heart!
Reminded me of all the adorable children in my life.  As challenging as it is to work with children at times, they are such joys and blessings.  I love kids!  You don't even have to see this kid's face to think he's adorable. Just look at how he carries himself and walks with that confidence. aww: )

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A tea lovers omijacha tea house journeys

This week I awoke with an intense tea-craving for which I have not yet fulfilled!  I was in Trader Joes, a health foods store here in America, with my mom and walked by the tea section. I saw a box of pomegranate white tea! It looked delicious, but right now I'm on a no caffeine kick. Although I now know it has less caffeine than natural green tea, I'm trying to hold strong to the no caffeine.  Pomegranate is delicious and white tea is loaded with antioxidants, all the good stuff that helps you fight off illness and bad things in your body! The combination is difficult to beat. Pick some up if you have the chance.

The color of pomegranate white tea reminded me of one of my favorite Korean teas: omijacha.  It literally means five-flavored tea and is supposed to satisfy the five distinct tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent).  This tea, often slightly bitter to first time tea drinkers, is made of a berry from the schisandra chinensis vine originating from China and is used in herbal medicine. The red berries have healing properties that can open up the airways of asthmatic individuals or soothe the raspiest cough. They're also known for keeping the liver healthy and helping digestion among other properties.  Don't take my complete word for it! You'll have to try it yourself!  No one individual reacts the same way. If it doesn't work for you, just enjoy knowing you're filling your body with something tasty and healthy! I'm down for a cup of omijacha any day.

With the thought of omijacha comes the flooding memories of my first experience drinking it  at a cultural village in a tea house in South Korea.  I remember traveling with a group of new friends in 2008 in the Joellanamdo province. After a day of touring the cultural site, learning about pottery, and creating some traditional Korean crafts, we sat down for a refreshing cup of tea. I had no idea what to expect and was a little afraid the tea house would be too formal for my tastes. However, the ambiance and oriental feel of the tea house were both comfortable and relaxing. We had the option of sitting at a table or in a room with special mats. We had a large group of individuals and therefore sat at the table with benches. It did not necessarily retract from the tea house ambiance as we had cute little tea cups. Personally speaking, and many others would agree, the environment and ambiance are a huge part of the experience!
Once I was settled, I browsed the menu. Because it was my first time ordering tea in Korea, I chose something that sounded flavorful and looked pretty. Of course I don't judge a book by it's cover or a person by his looks! I just have a peculiar interest and obsession with the presentation of food and beverage. Presentation is half the taste. If it looks good, it should taste [at least a little] good! All that to say I chose the iced omijacha to soothe my soul and cool down on a day of humid delight. How was it? Delightful! A little sweet, bitter, pungent, sour, and salty! Well, honestly speaking I couldn't make out all of the flavors. If you sip it slowly you may just sample them all!
You could say my first, and definitely not my last, tea experience was amazing!  It didn't hurt to be in the presence of some fun friends. I knew I loved tea. However, this experience developed a long-lasting relationship and devotion to Korean tea houses not to mention omijacha.  Ultimately, the omijacha sampling experience sent my taste buds into a heightened sense of happy joy and me on a journey to sampling omijacha at as many venues and in as many forms as possible. I even purchased those tasteless instant packages from the Lotte supermarket more than once!

my first cup of omijacha on a very hot day
pure bliss:)
This brings me to a final significant memory of drinking omijacha with a special friend!
Two years after my first experience, a Japanese friend came to visit me in South Korea.  It was February '10, the dead of winter-one of the coldest winters Korea experienced in a long while!  After a freezing day trip to Nami Island, a beautiful island in the Gangwando province, known to be a great place for lovers and the site of the drama filming, "Winter Sonata" we found our way back to Seoul.  A warm tea house and a hot cup of tea were the only things that made sense!. We found our way into a special tea house hidden away up a flight of stairs in Insadong. Insadong is a more traditional part of Seoul packed with tourists looking for the ultimate Korean experience.  Although seemingly quaint and small from the outside, the room was well lit and very comfortable. It had the perfect mix of traditional and modern tea-house styles.  I happily ordered my omijacha. Without question, my friend and I ordered it hot on that frigid day.  Another cup of pure bliss to satisfy the senses.  For non omijacha drinkers, there are many other options such as yujacha (citrus), insamcha, (ginger), oksusucha (corn), etc. Be adventurous and dive into the selection of other traditional and herbal teas!

a much needed hot cup of omijacha

By now you've realized I love omijacha and tea houses!

For more information on tea drinking spots you can read an article at about a few tea houses in Seoul including one similar to the one my friend and I visited in Insadong. Matt is passionate about food and knows how to make it look good, too!  He and his partner were traveling in Korea and happened to explore a little bit of the tea scene in Seoul. Check out their take on tea in Seoul!

What is your favorite tea and where are your favorite tea houses?
Happy tea drinking my fellow tea lovers!

Monday, August 1, 2011

McDonald's: A sweet treat or trick?

I was Skyping with a friend in Taiwan. She showed me this nifty little treat card from McDonald's in her country. I've already come to the conclusion as I think many others have, that fast food for some odd reason tastes better in other countries (other than the US). It could be A) you miss your home countries "delicacies" and cuisines so much that any fast food often tastes delicious abroad. B) they sincerely put more effort into creating quality food [in Japan and Korea the food actually looks like the picture. Perfect. No joke.] and or C) they just have plain awesome things on their menu like bulgogi burgers in Korea.

Back to the treat card. The sweet card only increases my confidence in marketing and McDonald's options abroad.  The card, in one single purchase for the equivalent of one US dollar gets you free goodies and treats all summer long.  Here's how it works [see pic]: Buy any one item in the blue section and receive any one item for free in the bottom pink section.  There is no time window during the day and no limit to the use (as far as I was told.  I would guess that it may limit to one per day at each location.)  

Sounds like this McDonald's is out to super-size it's country or at least up its profits and increase number of consumers.  I was amazed by this little card, but it really does do the trick.  My friend is a testament to the marketing. She has significantly increased the amount of times she frequents the nearby McDonald's in her neighborhood.  I haven't worked up the nerve to ask if she has gained any weight, though.  

As for American McDonald's, they may or may not have changed their menu.  However, they're currently getting makeovers and serious face lifts.  McDonald's in the US is going for the Starbucks-esque feel.  Keep the customers for longer periods of time and therefore potentially increase their food intake. Also, by creating the comfortable environment people are more willing to want to take advantage of McD's as a hang out location.  Sorry kids, Ronald no more.  Again, in many other countries, McDonald's is like the Starbucks. Students up all hours of the night studying or enjoying a few laughs with friends. Let's see what the US can pull off.

so....why not jump on the bandwagon and feed the marketer's egos, giving your local golden arches some business! Take advantage of your nearest McDonald's and enjoy something tasty today! 

Happy fast food eating!